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Is Your Internet Fast Enough to Stream the Big Game?

Don't let buffering cause a delay of game. Troubleshoot your issues beforehand so you don't miss any of the action.

Image of two frustrated friends watching a ball game on TV
Cavan/Getty Images

If you're a sports fan who's ever tried to livestream a big game in your apartment, then you may already know the pain of realizing your neighbors are a few seconds ahead of you, as you hear them react to the big hit, swish or touchdown long before it plays out on your screen. Or just as bad, you get a notification on your phone before you ever get to see the winning kick.   

I've been there. It stinks.

The reality is that a certain amount of lag or delay is typical when you're streaming something live while everyone's tuning in to the same broadcast (my CNET colleague Eli Blumenthal does a great job of detailing the causes of the streaming delay). There's not much that you -- or your neighbors -- can do about that collective baseline lag. But if your cheering neighbors upstairs consistently seem to be several seconds ahead of you, that's a sign there might also be issues with your home network slowing things down. 

First, let me start by saying there could be longer-term ways to your streaming capabilities. For example, my CNET colleagues suggest upgrading your Wi-Fi router and other solutions in our guide to bettering your streaming experience. But let's focus on some short-term, quick improvements you can tackle in just a few days, so you're ready for the big game.

Don't wait until kickoff. Do a test run before game day

Ideally, you want to embark on this fact-finding mission at least a few days before kickoff. That'll give you enough time to make the necessary adjustments before the all-important day. 

Run a speed test

The first order of business is to know if you're getting the internet speed you're paying for. I have a sneaking suspicion that a good number of you out there aren't even sure what speed you're supposed to be getting (and maybe that's an article for another day), so if you're not sure, check your account online and verify what speed your plan promises.

Next, you'll want to run a speed test to find out if you're actually getting the download and upload speeds you need in the rooms where you plan on tuning in. The best, most thorough approach is to run multiple tests at different times of day to get a fuller picture of your connection's speed. But for the specific task of getting set up for the big game, you want to run your speed test at the same time of day as the scheduled kickoff (which is approximately 3:30 p.m. PT/6:30 p.m. ET).

There are plenty of free internet speed tests out there, but I most frequently use the Ookla speed test. I've got the app on my Apple TV and can see the results right on my LG TV -- you can also run it in your browser or by using a free speed test app on your Android or iOS device.

Image of Ookla speed test results

I run my Ookla speed test on the big screen!

Screenshot by Trey Paul/CNET

In our CNET guide to how much internet speed you really need, our recommendation for streaming HD video (for example, this year's Super Bowl coverage by NBC will be broadcast in HD) is a minimum of 10Mbps to 20Mbps, so that's your starting point. Overall, we also concluded that today's households should be looking for minimum download speeds of at least 100Mbps if speeds like those are available and affordable at your address, especially considering the number of smart devices connected in the home (which we'll touch on just below). 

With your speed test results in hand, make sure you're getting the speeds you're supposed to be receiving. If the numbers are far off, it might make sense to contact your internet service provider and find out if something is awry on that end, or, if possible, you could even try to negotiate a faster plan for less money than you're paying now. If you've been with your ISP for a while, you may be surprised to discover what better, cheaper plans are now available. 

Examine your layout

Wi-Fi is incredibly convenient, but it might also bear some blame for your buffering woes. Put simply, the farther away from the modem and router your streaming device is, the lower its wireless speeds will be. If speeds are low enough, you'll start to see buffering as the streaming device struggles to pull the video content over the air fast enough to show it to you in real time. 

I mentioned before that I ran my Ookla speed test right from my Apple TV. The reason for that is my wife and I decided to connect our Apple TV directly to our router via an Ethernet cable. We wanted our streaming services -- Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, etc. -- to all have access to the fastest speeds in our house, and that wouldn't be possible via Wi-Fi. Likewise, if possible for you, try a wired Ethernet connection for whatever device you plan to watch the Super Bowl on.

If you're unable to connect via Ethernet cable, the next best option is to try watching the game on a device or TV that's in the same room as your modem and router. The less distance between your router and your Wi-Fi streaming device, the better your chances for uninterrupted performance.

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Check your household bandwidth usage by investigating your router

If you're still encountering problems even though your download speeds seem to be up to snuff, you may be having trouble with your router. The first thing to try is the simplest: turning it off and back on again. I know that can be frustrating to hear, especially if you've ever asked for help from anyone in tech services. It seems like the standard first response is always, "Have you unplugged it and plugged it back in?" But the truth of the matter is that sometimes it can be that easy -- restarting your router often helps it reset and function better.

Something else worth considering is the number of people and devices using your network. While we mentioned earlier that the ideal download speed for streaming HD video is 10Mbps to 20Mbps, it's important not to forget that each device on your network is using bandwidth.

These days, our homes are filled with connected devices, starting with our mobile phones, laptops and smart TVs. We also have gaming consoles, security cameras, voice assistants, connected speakers/sound systems, smart thermostats, smart refrigerators, smartwatches and a growing number of other smart home gadgets . These are all vying for your bandwidth.

Take an inventory of the smart devices in your household and, with your partner, roommate, kids or whoever else is at your abode, get to some agreement on what can be temporarily removed from your network to allow a less congested network for game day.

On that note, if you have people in the home who aren't football fans and would like some counterprogramming -- consult with them beforehand and see if you can come up with a list of shows or movies that can be downloaded ahead of time. Maybe download a copy of Encanto for the kids. Or maybe the nonsports fans would enjoy some episodes of The Great British Baking Show or perhaps some classic episodes of The Office. Whatever it may be, take the time to get your household on board and those alternatives downloaded early and you can avoid strife, arguments and backed-up bandwidth on the day.

Go through a game day checklist

OK, you've done a practice run several days before the big game. But now it's Go Time. It's Sunday and you're just hours away from kickoff. To make sure all your efforts weren't in vain, it's time to run through the tasks one last time.

Rerun that speed test

The fantastic download speeds you registered several days ago won't do you any good if your game day speeds are lacking. It's always a smart idea to check in on your download speed before checking any other items on your list.

Return to your router and double-check the bandwidth status

Remember your inventory of smart devices? Go through the list and start removing them from your network. Even though you previously discussed this with the other members of your household, take the time to remind them of your game day plan. For example, you don't want the kids going off-script to hop online and play Fortnite instead of sticking to the movie you already downloaded for them. This will make for less stress in the fourth quarter when the game's on the line.

Now you're set to get the best experience possible for your home's current setup. You've done all you can, now have fun!

One final thought: Avoid streaming the game if possible

Before you start yelling at me, I'm not contradicting everything I just mentioned. Nor am I advocating that you give up your sports habit altogether. 

Maybe you found a few holes in your system that these tips can't fix (you're due for a new router or it's time to get out of apartment life, maybe?). Or maybe you just don't want to chance a game-day glitch. I'd encourage you to take a look at other ways to view your favorite matchups at home. 

For example, approximately 90% of all regular season and postseason NFL games are broadcast on the traditional networks of CBS, FOX, NBC and ABC. That means that even if you're a cord-cutter like me – and Statista predicts there will be 39.3 million households that part with pay TV in 2022 – depending on where you live, you can still get your football fix by using an over-the-air antenna. If you go that route, you could watch the big game without being at the mercy of buffering, blips or delays. 

That said, other sports, like the NBA, NHL and MLB, just to name a few, have a much smaller percentage of games shown on the broadcast networks, so an antenna won't do you much good there. Or, as my colleague David Anders put it in his rundown of internet and TV bundles, if you want your regional sports networks, you'll need to lean on a traditional TV subscription or streaming service with live TV. 

Whatever you choose to do, take some time before kickoff to make sure that your game day experience is the best you can make it. Also, be sure to have all your snacks on hand, prep your chili, wings, pizza and so on early, and enjoy the game!

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